INDIA. Mumbai: Ahead of its planned drive to inoculate all aged above 18 from May 1, the Union Government has asked Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, manufacturers of “Covishield” and “Covaxin” respectively, to reduce prices of COVID-19 vaccines.
The SII, the world’s largest vaccine maker in terms of volume, has announced a price of Rs 400 per dose for its ‘Covishield’, for state governments and Rs 600 per dose for private hospitals. Whereas Bharat Biotech has fixed the price of “Covaxin”, at Rs 600 per dose for state governments and Rs 1,200 per dose for private hospitals. Both vaccines are available to the central government at a rate of Rs 150 per dose.
States demand ‘one nation, one price’
Many states have objected to different prices of the vaccines, with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal saying this is not time for profiteering. Kejriwal has also appealed to the vaccine manufacturers to bring down the price to Rs 150 a dose, saying that they have an entire lifetime to earn profits but this is a time to show humanity. He said the central government should cap the price of vaccines if needed.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to amend the policy adopted by the Centre and provide the entire quantity of the vaccine free of cost to the state governments. The open market distributors may be permitted to have a specified quota of vaccine for which affordable price has to be fixed so that unscrupulous players do not exploit the public,’’ Vijayan has said.
Modi has made it clear that the Government will not import COVID-19 vaccines and the matter should be left to the states. He has said that the government would instead aim to support domestic vaccine makers by guaranteeing purchases from them. After cases began soaring this month, the Union government urged Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to seek permission to sell their shots in India.
SII defends vaccine pricing
However, the SII has defended pricing saying the earlier price was based on advance funding and now it has to invest in scaling up and expanding capacity to produce more shots.
In a statement,the Serum Institute clarified that there was an “inaccurate comparison” done between the global prices of the vaccine with India. “Covishield is the most affordable COVID-19 vaccine available in the market today,” SII said.
The SII said that “for the next two months, we will address the limited capacity by scaling up the vaccine production. Going ahead, 50% of our capacities will be served to the Government of India’s vaccination program, and the remaining 50% of the capacity will be for the state governments and private hospitals.”
Comparing the prices with the other vaccines in the world, SII has stated that while American vaccines are priced at Rs 1,500, Russian and Chinese vaccines would cost Rs 750 per dose, making “Covishield” a cheaper option. However, the vaccine price will remain at Rs 150 per dose for the Centre.
In a significant move, the Centre last week approved advance funds of Rs.3,000 crore for the SII and Rs 1,500 crore for Bharat Biotech. On the other hand, Johnson & Johnson has applied to India’s drug regulator seeking permission to conduct a phase-III clinical trial of its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine in India while also seeking an import license.
In another development, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has given approval for restricted emergency use of its antiviral drug “Virafin” for the treatment of moderate COVID-19 infections. Its manufacturer The Zudus Cadilla has stated a single dose subcutaneous regimen of the antiviral drug will make treatment of COVID-19 disease more convenient.
In the meanwhile, union health ministry stated that over 31 lakh vaccine doses were administered on Monday taking cumulative vaccine coverage to more than 14.50 Cr doses so far.